in the nature and ecotourism sector for 12 years, Mr. Jeremy
Garrett recently left his position as Membership Director with The
International Ecotourism Society to start his own consulting
Communications which specialises in providing communications solutions to the
outdoor and natural resources industries, including nature and
ecotourism. Jeremy recently received the 2002 International Ecotourism Promotion Award,
offered by the Ecotourism Society of Pakistan, with voting conducted internationally.
(The Interview follows:)
held a strategic post at The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) during the first International Year
of Ecotourism. What were in your view the successes and failures of
the International Year of Ecotourism, in terms of promotion and
marketing effectiveness? Do the average tourist and local community
now understand more about ecotourism than a year before, or was the
Year more successful as a networking affair?
really depended upon who you were and what you represented. I think
the best thing IYE achieved was greater knowledge among government
entities about what ecotourism is, and more importantly, what it is
not. Or at least it gave them the knowledge to understand this
distinction, and to understand what "greenwashing" is in the
context of marketing a destination as "ecotourism." If you
said your company conducted "ecotourism" tours, yet you
didn't hire any local people, never made any contributions to the
well-being of the local community, and only utilized foreign vendors,
that probably would be considered "greenwashing" - you might
be offering "nature tourism," but that's not
"ecotourism." And there's nothing wrong with offering nature
tourism - just promote it as that.
initially labelled the year as another means of marketing destinations
under the guise of "ecotourism", but from everything I saw,
the IYE probably was considered a non-event to the average tourist and
local community. Some destinations and tourist companies tried to
capitalise on the fact, but I'd say the majority of consumers
heard about IYE; if they somehow did hear, they probably didn't
understand the message or theme - was it a celebration or a networking
Working in the
communications field, I was gratified to see the many opportunities
for tourism practitioners to attend a conference or meeting within
their region where they could network with other like-minded souls.
This could have been considered the most successful part of the year,
when people were able to see what their peers and competitors had
accomplished, learn from them, and then take those skills home. We
probably will not be able to see the fruits of IYE until several years
in the future, when those local practitioners are able to use what
they learned from their peers.
are both an accomplished wildlife manager and ecologist, and an
ecotourism marketer and fundraiser. Do you think there is a divide on
the way these two separate constituencies approach ecotourism?
Thank you for the
compliment. There certainly is a mental divide, but I think by
necessity that the future fate of wild lands and wildlife will
increasingly depend upon making them "worthwhile" to people,
especially local interests. We've seen time and again that if local
people in depressed economic situations do not associate a value with
their wild areas, they will convert those areas to something that does
provide revenue (normally short-term). And often the result is
something that will be harmful to future tourism efforts.
For example, one of
the projects I worked on this past summer began with an idea from a
wildlife agency to promote conservation efforts on private lands. The
agency only manages a small percentage of the lands within their
region, so long-term conservation of wild lands and wildlife is
absolutely dependent upon private landowners. The project began to
link an economically depressed region together by promoting the
abundant natural resources through a highway-based wildlife trail that
would be taken by wildlife viewers (i.e. tourists). These local
communities previously had been offered such industries as corporate
hog farming, toxic waste and sludge disposal, and large-scale prisons.
However, they rejected these in favour of supporting something that
would retain their cultural and natural heritage. These communities
have now banded together to pursue nature tourism efforts, realizing
that it will be a long-term investment more in keeping with their
outdoor traditions, rather than the perceived quick infusion of funds
the other industries supposedly offered. This, in turn, will lead to
enhanced conservation efforts on private lands as those landowners
realize they are able to make money by sharing their lands and
wildlife with paying tourists. This example comes from the middle of
the U.S., but the same thing is happening worldwide every day.
The main problem in
saving these wild places is that biologists are much more comfortable
in dealing with wildlife than with people. As a result, they have
depended too much upon strict regulations and laws to save these lands
rather than finding alternative business solutions that are acceptable
to the local people. There's a standing joke that wildlife biologists
go into that line of work to avoid people. What we're now realising is
that while we know quite a bit about wildlife management, we now have
to enter into the field of "people" management. Thankfully,
this has begun changing in the last decade.
However, it takes a
lot of time and investment to enable local communities to conserve
their lands and wildlife; it is obviously much easier to pass a law or
write a fine, but you have not involved the community at this point.
When the community (whatever shape or form that is) becomes invested
in the success of the ecotourism project, they are more apt to support
and encourage environmental and conservation efforts because they
realize this is in their own best long-term interests for survival.
And this, then, is in the best interests of conservationists, because
the local community will ensure that the natural resources are
protected in the future.
is "ethical marketing" for you, and how does it relate to
ecotourism? Are there any special principles for ecotourism marketing?
marketing" should always subscribe to the truth, especially when
it relates to ecotourism. The average consumers know only what they
are told, so if they purchase a trip being promoted as
"ecotourism," the business by all means should subscribe to
the principles of ecotourism. If the company doesn't follow these
practices, the consumer will leave with the wrong impression of
"ecotourism" ventures and disregard future efforts.
The key to effective
marketing, ecotourism or otherwise, is to differentiate yourself from
your competitors. What makes you special or unique? What can the
tourist do at your destination that they can't do elsewhere? Find out
what your competitors are saying so you can draft a different message
that resonates with consumers. In some ways, it might be easier for a
true ecotourism business to market themselves, because they can
emphasise the opportunity for consumers to support a larger cause.
For example, if two
lodges are in the same destination, have comparable rates, and similar
favourable reviews, the lodge that practices the ethics of ecotourism
can promote the fact that 10 percent of their revenues go to support
the local town library and to replace trees cut down by illegal
logging. Most consumers probably would choose the ecotourism venture.
The "ethics" would dictate that the lodge does indeed carry
out these activities as promised.
is an "ethical rate" of remuneration for an ecotourism
consultant who is called to help develop ecotourism in a poor village?
That definitely is a
controversial subject - a village that makes very few dollars in a
year obviously can't afford a high-priced nature and ecotourism
consultant, with average prices ranging from $100/day to $1,000/day.
And yet a consultant probably can't "give away" his/her
services without some form of compensation, although I have met at
least one consultant willing to offer her services in
developing/marketing ecolodges if her travel expenses were met!.
This is where some
creative thinking can come in. Obviously, the village needs some
outside assistance to give them suggestions on what they offer, who
their market is, and how they can responsibly integrate ecotourism
offerings into their way of life. That outside assistance could come
from a university, government program, NGO or private contractor. In
the long term, it would be ideal to have someone from the region or
country with the proper knowledge; unfortunately, this is not the case
in many destinations, so outside experts should be brought in. Local
communities might first contact any relevant government branches
(tourism, wildlife, environment) or universities to see what programs
are offered, or any ecotourism contacts that could be provided. Many
times, NGOs such as Conservation International, WWF or The Nature
Conservancy will work with local communities to help them conserve
their lands and wildlife; ecotourism may be just one of several
options the community could undertake. Also, some communities go into
a partnership with private interests, who provide front-money in
return for back-end profits after the ecotourism venture has become
Regardless of the
method, if a community wishes to be successful in attracting tourists
to their destination in today's competitive marketplace, they will
need to find expertise for their ecotourism venture, whether it be in
planning, design, operation, marketing or evaluation. Also, don't
forget the adage "You get what you pay for" - a college
intern may be free, but their product will be markedly different than
a consultant who has years of experience.
ecotourism become mainstream? Are there any dangers if it has or does
definitely not mainstream - it's a small piece of the overall nature
tourism market. And by its very definition, ecotourism has to be both
nature-based and sustainable toward the well-being of local people,
something mass tourism is often unable to accomplish. This implies
that "true" ecotourism efforts should be small-scale to
avoid disturbing the well-being of local people, which to me includes
their way of life. Yes, any form of tourism that brings revenue into a
local community will change it. Sadly, however, change is inevitable -
I don't know if there is anywhere on earth where you can't see man's
touch: from airplanes and satellites overhead to garbage blowing on
the wind, or showing up on beaches.
The key, I think, is
providing the community with the necessary knowledge to decide how
much change they are willing to accept and then merging their
financial goals with the marketing potential. If they want to build a
new well, and want to use ecotourism to raise the revenues, they need
to be told at the start of the process what they can expect from
tourists, such as their attitudes, clothing, food and lodging needs,
etc. This will help the community determine any limits they wish to
impose on the growth of their ecotourism venture.
are the author of Landscaping for Wildlife: A Guide to the Southern
Great Plains (Garrett, publication in June 2003). For an Ecolodge
Owner, what would be Ten easy-to-remember "Commandments" to
attract wildlife in an ecological, non-addictive manner?
First, I'd like to
emphasise that anyone could use these suggestions, not just ecolodge
owners. Remember that wildlife, like humans, have four basic needs:
food, water, cover and space. If you can provide those in any form,
you'll enhance your opportunities to bring wildlife closer to your
home or lodge. That said, here's a quick list of suggestions to
1. Determine what species of plants and wildlife are already found in
your area, or occur in your region - you can't attract what doesn't
already occur. Try not to bring in foreign, non-native wildlife or
plants, as you may damage the fragility of the local ecosystem (which
is what paying ecotourists have come to see)
2. Provide year-round water sources, or have it nearby (streams,
lakes, etc.) within a quarter-kilometre. Moving water is especially
attractive to birds, which will use it to clean themselves.
3. If you have to remove trees and undergrowth for construction,
minimize the disturbance and try to integrate these natural features
into your construction - something lives there, even insects that
other animals eat.
4. Develop wildlife viewing areas where you can view animals without
disturbing them - perhaps through use of viewing blinds, feeding sites
and soft mulched paths that allow people to quietly approach. Have
your guests help you make a list of the wildlife they encounter - it's
a value-added benefit to staying with your lodge.
5. If you need additional plantings, choose trees, shrubs and flowers
that occur naturally in the region; exotic, non-native species may
appear more attractive to you, but the local wildlife won't use them
for food. Also, remember that to a visitor, all your native species
appear exotic to them! Choose plants that serve multiple uses, such as
being utilized for food, nesting and shelter.
6. Create brush piles and rock piles to serve as escape cover for
small wildlife species, but don't place them near buildings (unless
you'd like to attract snakes!). Place flat, light-coloured stones
throughout your property to serve as basking sites for butterflies and
reptiles such as lizards and snakes.
7. To attract butterflies, plant colourful wildflowers in a sunny area
of the property. Remember that butterflies need plants that produce
nectar (for adults) and that serve as larval host plants. The best
butterfly gardens incorporate both types of plants so that the adults
don't need to fly far to feed and lay eggs.
8. If you provide additional food for wildlife, such as birdseed,
ensure that the seeds you select will not become a nuisance if they
accidentally sprout or are carried away. Many hummingbirds are
attracted to sugar-water feeders (four parts water to one part sugar)
placed in partially shaded areas; clean your feeders every 3-4 days
with hot water and vinegar to remove bacteria and fungus moulds.
9. Minimize the use of herbicides and insecticides by using natural
methods of control.
10. Take a comfortable seat, a pair of binoculars and enjoy the fruits
of your labour!
Ecolodge - an oxymoron or a necessity?
I agree with the answer provided by
Chandra de Silva in
a previous ECOCLUB Interview, where he said that when applied to ecolodges,
"luxury" should be considered in the context of locally
crafted - not imported - artefacts and handcrafts that draw the
visitor into the local culture. In this context, yes, you can have a
Luxury Ecolodge. Don't forget that even though tourists may be taking
an ecotourism trip, they're still on vacation - they still want to
splurge and do things they can't do back home. Research confirms that
U.S. ecotourists have a higher-than-average salary and more disposable
income. After taking a jaunt through the forests, they want to be
confirms this thought. According to the "The Business of
Ecolodges" (Sanders and Halpenny, 2001, available from TIES),
which surveyed some 200 nature lodges globally, the most profitable
were those that either charged more than $175/night, or those that had
room rates of less than $50/night. It was suggested that these two
might be most profitable because high-end (luxury) facilities can
better differentiate their products, while low-end lodges can keep
their expenses relatively low, most probably by catering to the
independent traveller / backpacker market. All the lodges in the
middle price brackets are essentially offering the same products
without any discernable difference. Again, if you can't differentiate
yourself from your competitor, it is difficult for the consumer to
a Marketing expert, do you feel there is any new detectable trend to
replace the word "ecotourism" in brochures?
It is important to
understand that ecotourism is both a philosophical concept and a
market segment. As such, many companies promote "ecotourism"
in their brochures simply because they are trying to cater to the
market, even though they may not follow the principles of ecotourism.
But they also use all the other related catchwords: adventure tourism,
nature tourism, cultural and heritage tourism. And certainly,
ecotourism as a market segment meshes pieces of each of these.
I don't think we're
going to get companies to stop promoting themselves as
"ecotourism" companies, because they are in competition for
market dollars. Certification efforts may help to some extent, but
perhaps instead we should educate consumers on what
"ecotourism" principles are, and teach them how to select
companies that engage these principles. TIES' consumer campaign -
"Your Travel Choice Makes a Difference" - has been a good
important a role do you think the Internet plays for Ecotourism;
more or less important than for mass tourism?
The Internet is
absolutely crucial for small, local-based ecotourism ventures, more so
than any other medium. Just looking at some of the
and other websites, you quickly realize that without the Internet,
they probably would never be seen by consumers. Mass tourism already
has a built-in marketing network of travel agents, outfitters,
operators, videos and advertisements that promote various destinations
and sites; ecotourism ventures, on the other hand, don't have such
large budgets to promote themselves. Using our small village from
earlier as an example, what is the most cost-efficient way for them to
promote themselves to the world at large? The Internet, of course.
According to the Travel Industry Association, 71 percent of U.S. travellers
had access to the internet in 2000. That number globally continues to
rise, so the Internet provides a cost-efficient means of promoting
small ecotourism ventures.
you were to choose an ecotourism trade event in 2003 which one would
No matter where you
are from, it is always worthwhile to attend a conference or event
where you can actually be with your peers and competitors and share
experiences. That said, I highly recommend the
IATOS World Congress
and Expo (19-23 February 2003), which combines a 2-day conference
attended by hundreds of ecotourism practitioners with a 2-day trade
show attended by some 20,000 consumers. It's a great opportunity to
get new take-home ideas, sell some trips, and experience the
world-famous blues clubs of Chicago, USA !
Thank you very much!
complete list of ECOCLUB Interviews here